Homenetmen’s Western United States Regional Board has named Koko Balian as this year’s Exemplary Member. Balian’s involvement in Homenetmen spans approximately 60 years. According to Balian, his life has had three influences: his home, his schooling, and Homenetmen.
Balian maintains that Homenetmen has been like a magnetic force in his life; one that has given him his Armenian identity and sense of self-confidence. The organization has taught him to serve his people and his homeland.
He attests that everything that he has learned from Homenetmen he has returned to his community so that they could also strive to serve Homenetmen as well.
He has served on Homenetmen Boston’s Chapter Executive Board as well as on Los Angeles’ Chapter Executive, been on numerous Regional level committees, as the Navasartian organizing committee chairperson, a Regional Executive member and Chairperson, a delegate of regional conventions, and served on the Central Executive Board for three terms, including one-term as Vice-Chairperson.
An interview was held with Koko Balian at his residence to explore his background and vision.
When asked what Homenetmen has offered him, Balian answered, “I was already a scout at the age of 10 at the Azadamard club in the Achrafieh district in Beirut, Lebanon. Since that time, Homenetmen has been a tremendous force in my life. I recall my scouting friends at the time, which included Haroutioun Chekijian, Alec Melkonian, and Jirair Sarkissian, the latter of which I have served with on the Homenetmen Central Executive Board. At that time, aside from our home and family, we felt the most closeness and affinity to our center and Homenetmen.”
Balian explained that when he arrived in Boston in 1962, a Homenetmen chapter did not exist in the area. When a chapter was established there in 1973, he took on the role of an executive member and it seemed to him that a new life began not only for him but for the Armenian community in Boston.
In 1976, Balian relocated to Los Angeles and until now, he remains closely affiliated and a part of the Homenetmen Western Region organization.
During the same year that he relocated to Los Angeles, Balian began working on a regional committee and became a member of the Los Angeles Chapter Executive Board. From 1982-1986, Balian was elected onto the Homenetmen Regional Executive Board, and from 1990-1992, he held the position of Regional Executive Chairperson. For two consecutive terms between 1995-2003, he served on Homenetmen’s Central Executive Board. He was elected to the Central Executive Board again and served from 2007-2011 as its Vice-Chairperson.
He has participated in Homenetmen’s International Conventions six times. He asserts, “I am the product of Homenetmen…the product of an organization that raised and educated us as Armenians. Homenetmen has given me and thousands of others in the Diaspora with a true sense of the Armenian identity, like a family. I have not been an athlete or a coach, but I have worked on the administrative aspect of the organization. I have realized that everything that Homenetmen has given me, it is my duty to return ten-fold.”
Homenetmen members, who have worked closely with Koko Balian throughout the years, all bear witness that he has never denied any opportunity to be of service within the organization.
Balian’s organizational life has also reached his homeland. In Armenia, he played a role in the formation of Homenetmen – HASK in the areas of scouting, athletics, organizational structure, campgrounds, etc.
The meeting with Koko Balian also explored what he envisioned for the organization’s future. He has been part of the Central Executive’s committee focusing on strategic planning and future vision; a form of road map for the organization.
He stated, “In the past, there was an environment that included the home, school, and center. However, currently in the United States, modern times call for new demands. Today, for our younger generation, Homenetmen has many competitors and it is necessary to keep in mind such issues with regards to our principles. All of these are taken into consideration in our strategic long range plan. While the work of Homenetmen is in the phase of expansion, we must keep in mind that growth has its consequences too.”
Balian explained that, fortunately, Homenetmen bears the support of the people. “Our people are always at our side and this is a great advantage for the organization. In the Diaspora especially, the people link their identity to Homenetmen and trust them to raise a new generation with an Armenian upbringing, which completes that which they are receiving in their homes and schools, particularly through the scouting ranks and activities, athleticism, and leadership spheres. Homenetmen is a unique army of volunteers.”
In his opinion, the work of strategic planning is broad and multi-leveled. It is comprehensive and incorporates all of Homenetmen’s work and activities. “What is essential is to transform it into behavior and action. It is a challenge that, in my belief, Homenetmen will confront and overcome,” he proudly states.
When exploring Balian’s past and his vision for the future, it is important to note the many commendations he has received for his dedicated service to the organization.
In 1993, he was awarded with the Homenetmen Service Medal and, in 2002 he earned the HASK (National Scout Movement of Armenia) Gold Medal. The same year, he received a Gold Medal by the Armenian Minister of Culture-Sports and Youth Issues. In 2004, he received Homenetmen’s highest medal, known as the “Arzhanyats” Medal. Later, in 2014, he received a Gold Medal by the Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Diaspora.
The Homenetmen Regional Executive Board congratulates Koko Balian, whose heart is embraced by an organization which he has made a cornerstone of his life. His example is one for youth to follow among Homenetmen chapters throughout the world.